Why did Jesus Come?

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Let me begin by asking you a question: if you could you have one wish granted by some all-powerful genie, what would it be? One thing that would meet your biggest need and make the biggest difference to your happiness. What would it be?

Well, needless to say there are whole websites devoted to that question. And one of them I found gives a long list of answers that people have emailed in. The email at the top said:

First, I would ask for more wishes.

The next email down said: I thought I had really great answer until I read that first one, which is really smart.

Further down, someone says: A two-week trip to Las Vegas with spending money.

Someone else says: To be loved back by the one person I've ever loved.

And the last one says: I would wish for happiness, because that is surely every person's main goal in life.

What would your wish be?

Well, for the next few weeks, these morning services are geared especially for the person who'd say, 'I'm not sure what I believe. I wouldn't call myself a Christian (at least, yet) – but I'm thinking about it – or willing to think about it.' And if that's you, I guess you'd probably say God doesn't really feature in your day to day life – and probably didn't feature in the wish you came up with just now. And what we're going to do is: look at that Bible reading we had just now, where Jesus says: our biggest problem is wishing for the wrong thing. He says: our biggest problem is making wishes where God doesn't feature, when in fact only God can meet our biggest needs and make us happy as he meant us to be.

So we're going to look at that reading from Luke's Gospel (Luke 5.17-26) – Luke being one of the four historical records of Jesus' life, death and resurrection from the dead. And to cut to the chase, Christians are convinced that Jesus was God's Son become human. So that if you'd been there 2,000 years ago, you could have seen and heard God in person. And if that's true, then atheism goes out of the window – the belief that God isn't there. And agnosticism goes out of the window, too – the belief that we can't know whether he's there or not. So let's take a look at this incident in the life of Jesus. And if you wouldn't (yet) call yourself a Christian, I'm not asking you to believe everything in it straight off. I'm just saying: please give it a look, and ask yourself what you make of it.

So, let me run the beginning of that reading past you again. This is Luke chapter 5 and verse 17:

One day as he [that's Jesus] was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law [they were the most religious people of the day… Pharisees and teachers of the law], who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea anJerusalem, were sitting there.

And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. V. 18-19

Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

So it's pretty obvious what this man's one wish was. He wanted to walk again. It's pretty obvious what he thought was his biggest need and what would make the biggest difference to his happiness. And it's also pretty obvious that Jesus thought differently. Let me read you the next bit, verse 20:

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Get up and walk.'

No, that's exactly what he didn't say. Not yet. By the end of this incident, Jesus does say that and heal him – which shows that Jesus did think this man's health was a need that mattered, he did care about that. But he didn't think it was his biggest need. Which is why what verse 20 really says is:

 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.'

So Jesus is saying, 'Your biggest problem is actually sin, and your biggest need is forgiveness.'

Now I don't know what comes to your mind when you hear the word 'sin'. I saw a tabloid headline the other day which said, 'Corrie Star's night of sin.' And if you're into Coronation Street you'll know better than me what that was about. But 'sin' for the tabloids is basically something like a night of naughty sex. Now using sex other than God meant is one example of sin. But the Bible defines sin simply as living without reference to God, living the way I want, rather than asking what he wants. In fact the best definition of sin I've heard came from my brother Niall who's not a Christian. Niall's pretty senior in Vodafone – so if you're with them, thanks for subsidising my Christmas and birthday presents – he's overpaid but generous. But he doesn't (at least yet) share my faith in Jesus. And I said to him one time, 'So do you believe there is a God?' And he said, 'Yes, I definitely believe he's there.' And I said, 'So if it might be true that he's made himself knowable through Jesus, wouldn't that be worth looking into?' And he said, 'To be honest, I don't want to.' And I said, 'Why not?' And he said, 'I guess I just don't want him interfering in my life.'

And that attitude to God is what the Bible calls sin. So you don't have to jump into bed with someone you shouldn't have done, in order to qualify. You just have to say to God – consciously or subconsciously – 'I don't want you interfering; I'm going to live the way I want.' Which the Bible says is all of us – it says we've all pushed God out of his rightful place and put ourselves at the centre. And that has what you might call a minor consequence and a major consequence.

The minor consequence is that we'll never be happy – certainly not as God meant us to be. E.g., just think back to that person on the website whose one wish was, 'To be loved back by the one person I've ever loved.' But what would happen if they did get together? Would she love him and he love her as she thinks they would? No, because when two people are both trying to be the centre of the universe, the problem is: which one of them's actually going to be the centre? Who's going to get their own way at the expense of the other? The irony is: we put ourselves at the centre, thinking it'll make for happiness, when in reality it's the biggest threat to it. So the famous misprint at the end of the children's fairy tale was much more true to life:

The prince and the princess were finally married and they lived happily even after.

So the minor consequence of sin is that we'll never be happy as God meant us to be. But the major consequence of pushing God out of the picture is that we're then at odds with him. And you can't overstate how offended he is when we accept his gift of life but then say to him, the Giver, 'Keep out of it. I don't want to relate to you.' I remember when I was a student, back in the day, I would go home in uni holidays, and one time I took a whole lot of work that I needed to do and basically buried myself in my room for the first week home. I'd pop out like a rabbit to grab meals or go out for a break, but basically my parents barely saw me. And one day, mid-morning, Dad came in without knocking and said, 'Look, you come home. You eat our food. You use our car. You do what you want. And you haven't even said good morning to us today.' And he gave me a good hard stare and left. Well, take my Dad's offendedness and multiply it up a few million times and you begin to get the idea of how offended God is by us living in his world without reference to him – and the idea of how we deserve his judgement for that, and for all the self-centred ways we live as a result. So Jesus says to this man – and to us, 'Your biggest problem is sin, and your biggest need is to be forgiven by God and to start life over again with him in his rightful place.'

And I wonder if that's beginning to make sense to you? I wonder if this diagnosis that sin is our real problem makes sense of your self-centredness and pride, and all the conflict you bring to your relationships, and the way you end up hurting the people you love the most? I know a lot of people just laugh off the idea of sin. But if there is no God and no such thing as right and wrong and sin, then why do we feel ashamed at our selfishness? Why do we feel guilt about things we've done? And why do we feel anger at things others have done to us? Because we do feel those things. And yet none of them make sense, or have a solution, on the atheist's view of life.

So verse 20,

 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.'

So what happens next? Verse 21:

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, 'Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?'

So 'blasphemy' is when someone insults God – e.g., by talking or acting as if they were God. Which is exactly what Jesus was doing here. Now people who are anti-the Christian message sometimes say, 'Jesus never actually claimed to be the Son of God – the church made that up later.' That was Dan Brown's line in The Da Vinci Code. Well, the answer is: Jesus did claim to be the Son of God. Sometimes explicitly. And sometimes implicitly – like here. Because by saying he could forgive sin – which is our offence against God – he's claiming to be God. Because only the offended party has the right to forgive.

So just imagine that after the service Rod (who's been leading it) had a falling out with the organist over the music. After all, church music can be a bone of contention. And you may have heard the old gag, 'What's the difference between an organist and a terrorist?' Answer: 'You can negotiate with a terrorist.' I'm sure that gag is no reflection of the situation here, so just imagine that Rod had a falling out with the organist afterwards – maybe they get on to discussing cricket or something equally dangerous – and just imagine Rod throws a punch. And you go over and find the poor organist nursing a bleeding nose. And you turn to Rod and say, 'It's OK. I forgive you.'

That would be outrageous, wouldn't it? Because you're not the offended party, so you don't have the right to forgive. And when it comes to sin, whether or not it hurts other human beings in the process, God is always the offended party: he is always the one whose will is ultimately being ignored. And in claiming to forgive sin, Jesus is claiming to be the offended party, to be God. But Jesus has the right to forgive sin not just because of who he is – but because of what he came to do – which was: to die on the cross for us.

Just think of one of the bigger things you've had to forgive in your life – and for some of us, that'll be very big indeed. We know from experience that in forgiving someone, something has to be done within you: you have to deal with your natural reaction to get back at the other person, to hold the wrong against them, to punish them by withholding your love or cutting them off, or however you do it. Instead of letting all that out at the other person, you have to keep it in and overcome it. And to forgive us, God had to deal with his natural reaction to our sin – which is to judge us by cutting us off from himself in this life and beyond it. Instead of letting that judgement out at us, he had to find a way of keeping it in and overcoming it. And the Bible says he did that by giving his Son to die for us on the cross. It says that when Jesus died, God the Father was pouring out all his judgement on our sin, and God the Son was taking it on himself in our place so that it wouldn't touch us – so that on the one hand our sins could be forgiven, but on the other hand justice would still be done on them: God wouldn't just be sweeping them under the carpet.

I don't have time to say more about that right now – but please do come back next week when the talk will be on why Jesus had to die – why that was necessary to pay for our forgiveness. So, Jesus can forgive us not just because of who he is – but because of what he's done in dying on the cross for us.

And that makes the Christian message unique compared to the world's religions out there. Because the Christian message basically says 'Done'. It says, 'By giving his Son to come and die for us, God has done everything needed to bring us back into relationship with him.' Whereas the world's religions say, 'DIY – do it yourself. You have to do things to make yourself acceptable to God or qualify for a better reincarnation or reach Nirvana or whatever.' In fact that's what we all think, naturally. And only the Christian message – only Jesus – gives people assurance of where they stand with God. E.g., I was speaking at a dinner event once, and sat next to this Muslim lady called Aawa. And after I'd given a talk like this, I sat back down and asked her what she thought about it. And she said, 'Well, we really believe the same thing, don't we?' To which I said, 'No, I don't think we do.' And she said, 'What do you mean?' So I said, 'Well, imagine on our way home tonight we're both run over by a bus and killed [my usual, light after-dinner banter]. Imagine we're both run over by a bus, and on your belief you're going to have to face Allah. How do you think it'll go?' And she said, 'Well, we believe he'll weigh up our good deeds against our bad deeds and we'll be accepted depending on how that turns out.' So I said, 'And how do you think that's looking for you right now?' And she very honestly said, 'Not good.' So I said, 'And do you think that's likely to change before you die? And she thought, and very honestly said, 'No.' And then she looked at me and said, 'So what do you believe would happen if you went under a bus tonight?' And I said, 'I'm absolutely sure God would accept me – because it doesn't depend on what I've done, it depends on what Jesus has done for me on the cross.'

Only Jesus gives assurance of where you stand with God. Because only Jesus can say to you, because of who he is and what he's done, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.' So Jesus says to us, 'Your biggest problem is sin, and your biggest need is forgiveness.' And then his claim is that he can forgive us because of who he is and what he's done for us on the cross. The question is: how do we know that's true?

Because you don't just believe every claim that's made. And some of the people in this incident didn't believe Jesus' claim. Look at v.21 again:

 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, 'Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?'

Hey,'He's talking as if he was God – but he's blatantly not, he's just a man like us, isn't he?' But is he? Well read on, v.22:

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, 'Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven', or to say, 'Get up and walk'?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins....' He said to the paralysed man, 'I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.' Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.

Now some people say what's going on there is like this: Jesus has claimed to do something invisible – namely, forgive sins – but these people don't believe him. So he does something visible – namely, heal the guy – as if to say, 'If I can do the visible thing, why won't you believe I can do the invisible thing?' And there's some truth in that. But there's more to it than that. Because the Bible says that our mortality is a kind of blanket judgement that God has placed on all of us because of our sin. It says that sickness (like this man's paralysis) and ageing and dying are all part of this blanket judgement which is to show us that we can't really live without God like we think we can – because it shows us we can't even keep ourselves physically alive.

So, when Jesus claims he can forgive sins, another way of saying that is that he claims he can lift the judgement for sin off us. And that's exactly what he's doing for this man here. He's not saying this man was paralysed as a result of some specific sin. He's saying his paralysis was just one of the many forms that the blanket judgement of mortality takes – and he's showing that he can lift that blanket judgement of mortality away

So the forgiveness Jesus offers isn't just for your past. It's for your future, too – right up to the moment you die. And if your faith is in Jesus then at that moment he will lift mortality off you forever, and you'll go to be with him in heaven in a new body which will be finally free from sin and will never go wrong. And Jesus' own resurrection from the dead shows that can happen.

So imagine we could do a live link to heaven right now. And instead of interviewing someone from this church, like we did just now, imagine I could interview this man Jesus healed. I think he'd say something like this:

'Well, I went to Jesus that day wanting more than anything else to walk again. That was my one wish. And it was great to walk again, and do things like play football with my boys. But the far more important thing that happened that day is that Jesus forgave my sins and I began a relationship with him. Because of course I got older. And some very difficult things happened to us. We lost a child. We faced some terrible harvests. And the Romans made life pretty miserable. And then in my early fifties I got sick and died. But because of being forgiven, I've been here in heaven for 2,000 years from your point of view, which is wonderful beyond anything you can imagine. And even during those difficult things on earth, it made all the difference to know that God was there and for me and with me. So I can't tell how you how glad I am that Jesus didn't just give me what I wished. He gave me what I really needed.'

So what about you and your wish list? Because Jesus is saying that our biggest problem is making wishes where God doesn't feature – wishes about love and success and money and happiness –  when in fact only God can meet our biggest needs and make us really happy. And if that's true, then our biggest need is to be forgiven by Jesus, back into relationship with him, and to say to him, 'Here's my life. I want to stop trying to run it myself, chasing my wish-list. I want you to run it from now on, and I want to chase your wishes for the rest of my life.

I wonder if that's happened to you? I wonder if you'd like it to?

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